NWSL Digest: Reign, Flash flying as we move past Week 1

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Player of the Week

Vicky Losada (right) is part of an emerging core of Spanish talent that’s starting to make Ignacio Quereda’s team relevant in Europe, but having never played outside of Spain before , the 23-year-old midfielder was a bit of an unknown to those who don’t subscribe to the Women’s La Liga Television Network (a channel that doesn’t exist).

So credit to Aaran Lines and the Western New York staff for scouting Week One’s big star. Perhaps teammate and fellow Spanish international Adriana Martín deserves some credit, too. Whatever the reason, the former Barcelona standout was more than able to make up for the loss of Abby Wambach, scoring twice and assisting on Brittany Taylor’s goal in the Flash’s 3-1 win in Washington.

Results

FC Kansas City 1-1 Sky Blue FC – Amy Rodriguez 42′; Katy Freels 48′
Houston Dash 0-1 Portland Thorns – Allie Long 24′
Washington Spirit 1-3 Western New York Flash – Vicky Losada 15′, 67′; Christine Nairn 50′; Brittany Taylor 54′
Seattle Reign FC 3-0 Boston Breakers – Kim Little 49′, 54′; Megan Rapinoe 88′

Team of the Week

GK – Jill Loyden, Sky Blue FC – This is a quantity choice, with the U.S. international making seven saves in Kansas City. Coming up big on Amy Rodríguez in the second half, Lloyden helped preserve a point on the road, even if some of her first half kicks were quite … interesting?

RB – Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – There weren’t any standout performances at right back, but O’Hara’s forays forward — tormenting rookie Kassy Kallman — distinguished the U.S. star. Normally a left back and a converted attacker, the Stanford grad got the call behind natural right back Caitlin Foord, who was pushed into midfield. Late in the game, O’Hara slid into central defense, playing understudy for Christie Rampone and Lindsi Cutshall.

CD – Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Sauerbrunn’s always a pleasure to watch, something you’re reminding of in her moment-to-moment control at the back; comfort on the ball; sublime steps into midfield. I’d bet against her being in this team every week, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

CD – Brittany Taylor, Western New York Flash – We don’t like to be too goals-centric on this list, but Taylor did score on the league’s opening weekend, something that helps her edge out Sauerbrunn’s partner, Nikki Phillips, for this spot.

LD – Kassy Kallman, FC Kansas City – Like right back, left back was difficult to find standouts, but Kallman’s assist on Rodriguez’s goal earns the former Florida State Seminole a spot.

M – Allie Long, Portland Thorns FC – Long put four shots on goal on Saturday in Houston, with her first half header allowing the defending champions to win the first NWSL game at BBVA Compass Stadium.

source:  M – Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC (right) – Another great performance from the Reign’s best player last season saw the Wales international complement her customary rambunctious play with two assists, helping Seattle to an overwhelming start.

AM – Vicky Losada, Western New York Flash

AM – Kim Little, Seattle Reign FC – Little is coming off a downturn in goals at Arsenal, production that is unlikely to be so muted in Seattle. With one from the spot, another from open play, Little notched two goals in her first 90 North American minutes.

AM/W – Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – A late goal against an overwhelmed Boston gave her just rewards for a strong opening day performance.

F – Amy Rodriguez, FC Kansas City – Making her NWSL debut, Rodriguez’s fine finish off Kallman’s late first half pass gave FC Kansas City its first goal at Durwood Stadium. Welcome back, A-Rod.

Standings

Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
Seattle Reign FC 3 1 1 0 0 3 0 3
Western New York Flash 3 1 1 0 0 3 1 2
Portland Thorns FC 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
FC Kansas City 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Sky Blue FC 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Chicago Red Stars
Houston Dash 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 -1
Washington Spirit 0 1 0 1 0 1 3 -2
Boston Breakers 0 1 0 1 0 0 3 -3

 

Quick thoughts, after week one

1. Becky Sauerbrunn and Nikki Phillips may already be the league’s best central defense duo …

FC Kansas City didn’t keep a clean sheet, but the goal was a bit freakish – a failed clearance that fell straight to Katy Freels. Around that, the central duo of Sauerbrunn and college teammate Nikki Phillips assuaged any fears shaking up last year’s solid defense would lead to a downturn in performance. Individually, the former Cavaliers were two of the weekend’s three best central defenders.

Compared to opening day last season, FCKC see only one player return to the same spot in the back four. Sauerbrunn and Leigh Ann Robinson stay the same, but Robinson (left to right back) has shifted to new roles.

Phillips’s addition, however, could justify the tweaks, and while Kallman looked a little slow against Foord and O’Hara, she won’t be the only left back in the league subjected to that problem.

source: Getty Images2. … but this formation change for FC Kansas City could cost us some fun.

I want to reserve judgement on Vlatko Andonovski’s switch away from the 4-2-3-1. I really do. Given the trouble the Blues had converting possession into goals, it’s not clear going to a second striker should be automatically criticized.

The new formation, however, doesn’t have the same pure playmaker role that’s present in the 4-2-3-1. Given how much enjoyment reigning MVP Lauren Holiday (pictured) produced in that spot, the fan in me wishes we could have voted on the move. Less Lauren Holiday picking apart defense – less fun for the NWSL.

3. Houston held their own with the defending champions …

With a temporarily depleted defense, the debuting Dash impressed against the Thorns, even if the result didn’t come. No surprise: Randy Waldrum appears to have quickly forged a solid squad.

4. … but may also be experiencing a women’s professional soccer typical problem.

Game-changing goal scorers have been so rare in Women’s Professional Soccer and the NWSL, it’s been hard to succeed without one. Sky Blue did to a limited extent last year, but at the end of the season, they were the team you wanted to meet in the playoffs. The rest of the postseason qualifiers had Wambach, Holiday, and Christine Sinclair, while Sydney Leroux was the only standout forward to miss the playoffs.

The thesis here is that the nature of the leagues has allowed elite goal scorers – people who can occasionally find goals of their own accord — to have a larger than expected impact. The absence of elite snipers may have doomed Washington, Seattle, and Chicago last season.

If that’s the case, Houston is in trouble. They have talented forwards such as Kealia Ohai and Stephanie Ochs, but it’s unclear either will be among the league’s leading scorers. We know enough about Ella Masar to be confident she won’t.

The Dash looked impressive on opening day, but that lack of a scoring threat could be their undoing. Maybe Ohai or Ochs will step up.

source: AP5. For all the talk, Portland doesn’t look much different.

The team with as much talent as anybody had trouble controlling the game yet still managed a narrow victory. Give Cindy Cone’s hat to Paul Riley, and the Thorns would have that full 2013 feel.

It’s early, and the Thorns had a number of key absences, but all the rhetoric about controlling play and providing a more entertaining product felt flat on day one. Riley got a win in his NWSL debut, but it didn’t feel like the Thorns had made progress.

6. So many moves led to so little change for Washington.

It’s just over one week into the season, and there are already hints of chaos in Washington, where a coach entering his first full season on the job called out his team after Sunday’s performance. True, there isn’t enough there to assume it’s all mayhem and anarchy in the dressing room, but the early tension between staff and squad hints at the same problems that saw Washington change coaches half-way through last season. There may be something in the water.

7. Laura Harvey’s offseason

We’re one step away from Power Rankings, but this should be the real order:

1. Laura Harvey’s offseason
<end of list>

We talked about it on Sunday, but we can’t do this Digest feature without mentioning the obvious. Harvey’s winter overhaul has the potential to define this season. Even if it doesn’t, 2013 should be a distant memory in Seattle.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Kim Little SEA 1 2
2 Vicky Losada WNY 1 2
3 Amy Rodriguez KC 1 1
4 Megan Rapinoe SEA 1 1
5 Katy Freels NJ 1 1
6 Brittany Taylor WNY 1 1
7 Allie Long POR 1 1
8 Christine Nairn WAS 1 1
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Jessica McDonald POR 1 1
2 Adriana Martin WNY 1 1
3 Kassey Kallman KC 1 1
4 Vicky Losada WNY 1 1

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: The attack was quick, fluid, balanced, and scary. Little and Fishlock as threats from midfield can take advantage of all the work Rapinoe, Leroux, and Beverly Goebel do up front. The only defense may be a good offense – finding a way to get at the Reign’s back four. (1-0-0)

2
Western New York Flash: Last year I thought Abby Wambach’s health wouldn’t hold up and the Flash would crash and burn. They ended up winning the regular season. Any kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude I have about Aaran Lines went out the window. It looks like he’s built another strong team. (1-0-0)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: As much as this looks like last year’s team, that squad won the title. Perhaps Paul Riley will need a little more time to produce the attractive product Merritt Paulson wants, but the team still got a win on the road. There’s only so much nit-picking we can do over one week’s result. (1-0-0)
source:  4 FC Kansas City: A draw at home in week one should be slightly disappointing, but the team put eight shots on target. Hopefully, on other days, that will lead to more goals. If Jill Loyden was able to keep the Blues to one, credit the keeper without faulting the team, too much. (0-0-1)
source:  5 Houston Dash: They created just enough going forward to make me believe the goal scoring situation will improve. If, however, Houston can’t prove more adept at getting on the scoresheet, Saturday’s result will look more plucky than dangerous. (0-1-0)

source:

5 Sky Blue FC: Ranking them below a team that lost is harsh, but Sky Blue gave up too many chances and needed an unforced defensive error from Kansas City to get a point. Jim Gabarra’s team proved capable as always, but if they played Houston tomorrow, I’d put my loose change on the Dash. If might also ask if I could skip the bet entirely. (0-0-1)
source:  7 Boston Breakers: Given how good the Reign were, we’re giving Boston a bit of a pass, particularly since they were able to get to halftime at 0-0. Where anything that happens on the field often comes down to balancing blame and credit, we’re tipping the scales in Seattle favor and leaving Boston near the middle of the Power Rankings pack. (0-1-0)

source:

8 Chicago Red Stars: I have no idea what to make of Chicago after Week One.  (0-0-0)
source:  9 Washington Spirit: A year after finishing with a -23 goal difference in 22 games, the Spirit open up with a 3-1 loss to a team that was missing its best player. I know there’s a lot of hype around Crystal Dunn, and players like Yael Averbuch, Veronica Perez, and Christine Nairn should prove valuable additions, but wow does this year look like last (after one week, mind you). (0-1-0)

Week Two

Saturday, April 19

Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City  – Talent-wise, Kansas City has a huge edge, but if Andonovski’s 4-4-2 needs a breaking in period, Washington may be able to steal a point.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Western New York Flash – Chicago opens its season at Toyota Park, hoping to draw a crowd for Abby Wambach and the Flash. Whether the U.S. icon will play isn’t 100 percent certain. If Chicago, returning largely the same team that closed last season so strong, can carry over momentum from 2013, the team can knock off the Flash.

Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC – This matchup looks somewhat similar to Portland’s opener, prompting the obvious question: Will the Thorns play better? Even if they do, they’ll do os against a Sky Blue team that found ways to trouble them last season. So far from home, a draw would be a good result.

Sunday, April 20

Boston Breakers vs. Houston Dash – This should be a telling game for both teams. Was Boston’s opener truly about a powerful Reign team opening up at home? And were the Dash fueled by the occasion more than potential?

Ever Wonder why Manchester United is nicknamed The Red Devils?

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Our ‘Ever Wonder’ series will run throughout the 2022-23 Premier League season and focuses on key stories behind the history, tradition and culture of all 20 Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: Check out our ‘Ever Wonder’ series in full ]

Have you ever sat there and wondered why certain chants became iconic at a club? Why a team has a certain nickname? Why they play in those colors? How they were founded? Yep, us too.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA

This season we will be digging deep to tell the stories of the rich history, tradition and culture from around the Premier League and give you the answers to things you want to know more about.


How did Manchester United become known around the world as the Red Devils?

It is one of the most famous nicknames in the sporting world: but how did Manchester United become known as The Red Devils?

Previously they were known as ‘The Busby Babes’ as legendary manager Sir Matt Busby created one of the greatest teams the football world has ever seen.

United had so many incredibly talented and extremely young players and the Busby Babes were a revelation.

Why a new nickname was needed

However, tragedy struck in 1958 as the Munich Air Disaster occurred.

A plane carrying Manchester United’s players and staff back from a European Cup game in Belgrade crashed in heavy snow after a refueling stop in Munich. 23 were killed, including eight players, and the Busby Babes nickname became a painful reminder of the awful tragedy which rocked the club and the entire world.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Sir Matt Busby rebuilt the club and decided to look for a new nickname as Manchester United wanted to become more intimidating to opponents and they now had a squad of more experienced players and the Busby Babes nickname needed to be replaced.

The answer for that new nickname?

Well, it came from a local rugby club from Greater Manchester, who had played in France. Because of course that is the answer.

Rugby? South of France? Les Diables Rouges?

Salford, who are based just 4 miles away from Old Trafford, were known as the Devils and they played in red. The rugby club went to play in the South of France for two months in 1934 to help grow the popularity of the game.

Salford made such an impression that locals referred to them as ‘Les Diables Rouges.’ In English that is: ‘The Red Devils.’

It is said that Busby liked the nickname of Salford rugby club and the aura it created and as he planned for United to now be a more physical, defensive and tough-tackling side, he decided United’s new nickname would be The Red Devils too.

In 1973 the Red Devil appeared on United’s official club badge for the first time and it has been there ever since.

Enzo Fernandez impresses as Chelsea secure point vs Fulham

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$360 million later, and mid-table Chelsea were able to secure a point in a 0-0 draw with European hopefuls Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Friday.

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Chelsea’s spending spree saw them sign eight new players to swell Graham Potter’s first-team squad to 30 players, including Enzo Fernandez, who arrived in west London as the most expensive signing in British football history ($129 million) on Tuesday. The Argentine midfield wasted no time and looked a cut above everyone else on the field as he made his Premier League debut with precious little time to train with his new club.

The result sends Fulham (32 points) up to 6th in the PL table, now one point ahead of Brighton, though the Seagulls have played three fewer games now. Chelsea (30 points), meanwhile, climb past fellow strugglers Liverpool, into 9th.

Chelsea went inches from opening the scoring in the 45th minute, when Kai Havertz lifted the ball over the out-rushing Bernd Leno. As a pair of Fulham defenders made late recovery runs into the box, the ball struck the front of the near post and and bounced back into play to be cleared away.

Aleksandar Mitrovic was next to nearly break the deadlock in the 71st minute, when he went for goal just one or two steps inside the halfway line. Perhaps the ball was headed for the crossbar or just over, but it was close enough that Kepa Arrizabalaga had to quickly backpedal and palm the ball away from his goal line.

Not even a minute later, Fernandez nearly marked his Chelsea debut with a sensational goal from nearly 30 yards out. The ball fell to Fernandez and the 22-year-old World Cup winner uncorked a shot that narrowly tailed away away from the far post.

The oh-so-nearly-goals theme continued as the second half wore on, and it was Tim Ream who saved the day for the Cottagers in the 79th minute. Noni Madueke also made his Chelsea debut as he replaced another January signing, Mykhailo Mudryk, at halftime. Madueke’s first real involvement came as he rounded Leno outside the penalty area and scooted past with an eye toward goal, only for Ream be in the right place at the right time to boot the ball clear as the last line of defense.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY


How to watch Chelsea vs Fulham live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3pm ET, Friday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Watch out for Chelsea, because the crew is getting healthier. To be fair, it’s difficult to have more injuries than Chelsea has had this year, but we digress. Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Raheem Sterling, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are all ready to go, though Graham Potter said none of them are ready for 90 minutes. Wesley Fofana is close to a return, but should miss out, while Joao Felix could make his return. So, yeah, we could see Felix, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Raheem Sterling on the pitch at the same time. Zoom, zoom, Fulham.

Marco Silva’s Cottagers have cooled off, at least in terms of results, since beating Chelsea at Craven Cottage on Jan. 12, the game in which Felix earned his red card. 1-0 losses to Newcastle and Spurs, forgivable, were followed up with a FA Cup draw with Sunderland. If Fulham can get through this, there’s a more forgiving run of fixtures ahead with a Sunderland replay, Forest, Brighton, Wolves, and Brentford. But is anything forgiving any more in the Premier League? Aleksandar Mitrovic, as usual, looms as a key piece of Fulham’s hopes.


Chelsea team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: N’Golo Kante (hamstring), Christian Pulisic (knee), Wesley Fofana (knee), Edouard Mendy (shoulder), Armando Broja (knee), Denis Zakaria (thigh)

Fulham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Neeskens Kebano (achilles)

Brighton vs Bournemouth: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Brighton will continue their chase for European qualification, while Bournemouth try to climb out of the relegation zone, when the two sides meet at Amex Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRIGHTON vs BOURNEMOUTH

Graham Potter and Roberto De Zerbi have, between them, guided Brighton (31 points) all the way up to 6th place in the Premier League table. The gap to 5th-place Tottenham is five points; the gap to Manchester United in 4th in eight. Bournemouth, meanwhile, are in the bottom-three for the first time this season after picking up just one point from their last five PL games.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brighton vs Bournemouth

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How to watch Brighton vs Bournemouth live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Alexis Mac Allister (suspension), Jakub Moder (knee), Adam Lallana (undisclosed), Levi Colwill (undisclosed) | QUESTIONABLE: Facundo Buonanette (head), Evan Ferguson (ankle)

Bournemouth team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: David Brooks (thigh), Lewis Cook (knee), Neto (thigh), Dominic Solanke (knee), Marcus Tavernier (thigh), Ryan Fredericks (undisclosed), Junior Stanislas (undisclosed) | QUESTIONABLE: Philip Billing (undisclosed)

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Brentford vs Southampton: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Brentford will try to extend their unbeaten run, which began all the way back in October, when they host bottom-of-the-table Southampton at Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRENTFORD vs SOUTHAMPTON

The Bees’ (30 points) eight-game unbeaten run (4W-4D-0L) has taken them up to 8th in the Premier League table, now closer to the top-four (nine points) than the relegation zone (13 points) in their second-ever season in the PL. Saints (15 points), meanwhile, are living dangerously at the bottom, though the gap between themselves and safety in 17th place is just two points.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brentford vs Southampton

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Brentford vs Southampton live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Last time out, Brentford settled for a frustrating 0-0 draw with Leeds, but before that they rattled off successive wins over West Ham, Liverpool and Bournemouth with just one goal conceded in three games. Ivan Toney is 3rd in the Premier League with 13 goals, trailing only Harry Kane (16) and Erling Haaland (an absurd 25). After initially struggling to replace the creativity of Christian Eriksen (4 assists in 11 appearances last season), Thomas Frank’s side is firing once again thanks to Mathias Jensen (4 in 20), Toney (3) and Josh Dasilva (2) picking up the slack.

After losing 3-1 to Newcastle over two legs in the League Cup semifinals, Southampton return their attention to the ongoing relegation battle. Having won just one of their last nine Premier League fixtures (1W-1D-7L), Saints made four first-team signings to strengthen the midfield and attack. They brought in some experience (30-year-old midfielder Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb and 28-year-old forward Paul Onuachu from Genk) along with some youth and potential (a pair of 20-year-olds, midfielder Carlos Alcaraz from Racing Club and winger Kamadeen Selumana from Rennes).


Brentford team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Pontus Jansson (thigh), Frank Onyeka (hamstring) | QUESTIONABLE: Shandon Baptiste (adductor)

Southampton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Valentino Livramento (knee), Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring), Juan Larios (adductor) | QUESTIONABLE: Moussa Djenepo (head), Alex McArthy (ankle)

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